Sarah Megan Thomas – Writer / Producer / Actress of the 2012 film Backwards

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Andrew Ramallo: What was your motivation when writing the screenplay?

Sarah Megan Thomas: I love sports film, one of my favorites is Bend It Like Beckham. I wanted to see a different kind of sports film, one of a story that’s rarely told which is of an athlete who almost makes it. Someone who is of this Olympic level caliber and literally just misses the boat and sits on the sidelines. I kinda wanted the theme of what happens when that big dream doesn’t work out and you have to move one. For me personally I was an athlete, I was a rower, basketball player and a runner. I was never of Olympic caliber, that was never in my dream but definitely I had awesome victories and horrible defeats. I wanted to get those feelings across.

AR:  There are a lot of different aspects in the screenplay from Abi trying to make the team to then having to go back to her home life. There are a lot of different elements to the film, did you have that all thought out before writing the script or did it come to you bit by bit?

SMT: I did not have it all thought out, this is my first screenplay. I had the concepts basically the over arching themes and this concept about almost making the Olympics. Then I literally went to Barnes & Noble and bought every single book of screenwriting I could find. It was very difficult but I was lucky that I have a lot of friends that are actors so we were able to do a lot of table reads and get lots of feedback. I was able to incorporate some real life moments of my own, little tidbits but I didn’t have the whole thing thought out when I started off.

AR: Did you plan on starring in it from the start?

SMT: I did. First and foremost I’m an actress. I worked at drama school in London for Graduate work; I was a Theatre Major at Williams College. I’ve been in city since my mid twenties; I did a lot of commercials, theatre and independent film. I really wanted to write a film that has many strong roles for women, that was one of my goals not just for me but for a bunch of actresses out there, there are so many women in this business. I definitely knew this was a role I wanted o play from the beginning.

AR: This is labeled as a low budget indie film. How did you go about getting funds for the film after the script was finished?

SMT: **Laughs** Yea that’s alil trying I gotta say. That’s the hardest thing about independent filmmaking. For me I was lucky because there was alil bit of a niche in the sense that I could go to rowers and ask for funding there. Some of my funding did come from former rowers, people who wanted to see this kind of a film. The rest of the funding came from a lot of, what do they call it. car salesmanship **Laughs** It’s kinda of really pushing and trying, when I got a no I asked if they had contacts that would say yes. It’s always a struggle, the funny thing is anybody can tell you this: there’s no secret for fundraising, it’s just hard work and I think alil luck that you reach the right people at the right time.

AR: What was the final budget for the film?

SMH: We can’t disclose the final budget. I can tell you its low seven figures and that’s possible because of a lot of generous sponsors: boat sponsors, clothing spongers, boat house row, a lot of sponsors made that possible.

AR: You had a lot of help outside to give a helping hand when shooting the film that must have been encouraging.

SMT: It was very encouraging, very encouraging. The rowing community really rallied around this film. It absolutely could not have been made without our sponsors because we didn’t have the cash on hand. We did not pay for any of the boats, rows or rowing equipment. Rowing equipment is incredibly expensive; we were able to take the rowing net outta the budget. It was like a non rowing film because all the rowing material was donated.

AR: How did you and director Ben Hickernell get together?

SMT: I interviewed a lot of directors and the one thing that was really important to me was that whatever the director did with the film that it would be a mainstream film. It would have been easy and take it a dark, edgy way but for me as the Producer/Screenwriter it was important because I felt that the scenes were kind of universal that I wanted this film to be something fathers could take their daughters to, teams could go together, so I didn’t want to take it in an edgy manner. Ben really understood that, I saw his film Lebanon, Pa. (2010) and I thought the performers were really great but I want to interview this guy. He was on board kind of with the vision for the film and he was also a local from Philadelphia. That was definitely a plus in his category because we were shooting there.

AR: When he came on board, did you both share the same vision on how the film would look?

SMT: Yes, absolutely. Ben and I worked very much as a team from the beginning. We work together in the edit room, we worked together kind of the whole time, it wasn’t a traditional film. Normally a director isn’t working with someone who has written the script, producing and starring. It was very much a team effort and he’s very much a team player. We both owe to each other that together we were able to listen to each others ideas and we had the same core vision. That doesn’t mean we always got along obviously. When there were disagreements we would listen to each other and go one way then on a different note we go to the next.

AR: Seems like a calm atmosphere.

SMT: He’s a very calm guy which was really wonderful with a twenty one day shoot.

AR: You mentioned your extensive theater background. Did that help at all when you were going through pre-production and shooting the film?

SMT: Actually not as much as I thought it would be honestly. Film is a totally different beast in terms of producing and fundraising. When you fund a theater revival it’s non-profit and film is for profit. They are basic things that go but they are very different animals.

AR:  How did you go about getting James Van Der Beek?

SMT: Our casting director sent him the script. For most actors his level in independent film they really have to connect with the material because we’re not offering the five million dollars or one million dollars. It’s not about a paycheck to them it’s about the material and we were lucky that James really connected with it.

AR: How was it working with a trained actress learning how to row and a professional rower how to act?

SMT: We saw every rower and actress up the East Coast and we couldn’t find the right combination. We found two great actresses, one who trained for a month and learned how to row, which she did. The other is really natural on camera and very much the character of the rower, we gave her acting lessons… like three and then she was off and running with James Van Der Beek. What’s great is the one girl who is a rower, her dad is a crew coach. We were able to get the two girls together for a weekend and have the dad train them together, bond together and I think that really added to their relationship.

AR: What was the prep like setting up for the rowing scenes?

SMT: There was definitely a lot of prep for that, a lot. Our cinematographer Harlan Bosmajian worked on The Social Network so when we were interviewing cinematographers they had great ideas on how to shoot the rowing. Harlan had these charts and said “This is how they this, this and this for The Social Network.” Obviously we didn’t have millions and millions of dollars like The Social Network so we couldn’t do what they did. He had the experience that we were able to prepare adamantly since we had to shoot these rowing sequences in two days.

AR: Were there any scenes or other elements that were dropped or altered due to budget constraints?

SMT: Yes **Laughs** this film is like Abi’s modified dream. Every screenwriter has dreams of wanting to do a multi, fifty million dollar film. I wrote the script with an Olympic race we obviously could not film an Olympic Race, the Henley Race, again we couldn’t film a Henley Race. Those are things that were particularly expensive but ultimately we came up with what I hope were more creative solutions that worked out.

AR: What is your Killer Film? Something that you can watch over and over again that brings you back to the reason you wanted to do film.

SMT: This is going to sound silly but Bridget Jones’ Diary for me is my favorite kind of film, it’s something witty and smart but also entertains. I know everyone has different film preferences but I think Bridget Jones’ Diary is witty, smart, funny, great acting, and great chemistry. Bend It Like Beckham is another one I know you only asked for one but also Pretty Woman, they’re just classics. Pretty Woman in particular, it’s not necessary rocket science, it’s not necessary an Oscar winner but it’s one you can go back and watch over and over again, and really enjoy.

AR: With films like A League of their Own and Bend It Like Beckham being few and far between, do you have any hopes that this can push female athletes in film more?

SMT: Absolutely, I would love to. You see a ton a male sports films out there, you know athletics is huge, there are so many women out there that there’s definitely an appetite and an audience so I sincerely hope that it  does start a trend to create more product for female athletes.

AR: As a first time screenwriter, main starring actress and also producer, do you have any future projects in mind that you hope to tackle?

SMT: Absolutely, I have in mind my next project, I have the idea and I’m going to start on it in probably another month; continue with press and move on to other cities. My ideal career is that of Jennifer Westfeldt, someone who is an actress and works on her individual things, TV shows and all that. Once every couple of years she writes and directs. I think that enables you to have a little bit of control in a career where you usually don’t have as much with the material you’re doing; it enables you to do passion projects.

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5.4/10 – IMDB

28% – Rotten Tomatoes

43% – Metacritic

Purchase Backwards on DVD

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